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U.S. Congress Reintroduces Act to Address Violence Against Women Around the World

March 7, 2010

The International Violence against Women Act of 2010 originally introduced by now-Vice President Joseph Biden, was recently re-introduced in both houses of the 111th Congress after failing to come to a vote in the previous Congressional session. On February 4, Senators Kerry (D-MA), Boxer (D-CA), Collins (R-ME), and Snowe (R-ME); and Representatives Delahunt (D-MA), Poe (R-TX), and Schakowsky (D-IL) re-introduced this ground-breaking legislation in a seemingly anachronistic display of bipartisanship. The House bill (H.R. 4594) currently names 37 co-sponsors, the Senate bill 25. Both are now being reviewed by their respective foreign affairs committees, while the House bill is also being considered by the House Committee on Armed Services.

According to the United Nations, approximately one out of every three women in the world has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime, usually by someone she knows. A World Bank study shows that women from 15 to 44-years-old are at greater risk of rape and domestic violence than of cancer, motor vehicle accidents, war, or malaria. The World Health Organization reports that, in some countries, up to 71 percent of women have been victims of physical, and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner at some stage in their lives. The bills on Capitol Hill would direct U.S. diplomacy and foreign assistance toward the goal of eliminating this global crisis of violence against women and girls.

In addition to the physical and psychological trauma associated with violence against women and girls, there are significant economic costs to individuals, communities, and countries. For example, a survey conducted by The International Center for Research on Women in India, shows that women there are missing, on average, seven paid workdays after each incident of violence. That and the cost of medical treatment often required for injuries, and legal expenses, clearly poses a serious economic burden to households. The public sector, (and therefore society), likewise contributes a significant portion of a country’s GDP to deal with violence against women and girls through the criminal justice system, medical care, and social services.

The Act aims to address this problem through the development of a five-year, comprehensive international strategy.  The strategy will focus on a specific set of 5-20  countries that have severe levels of violence against women and girls, and are geographically, ethnically, and culturally diverse from each other. For each country, it will include a combination of the two most-needed of the five following areas: health and survivor services, legal and judicial protections, change in public attitudes through communication and organizing, access to economic opportunities, and education and literacy.

To implement the strategies identified for each country, the Secretary of State, and the USAID Administrator, in coordination with the Ambassador-at-large for Global Women’s Issues (presently Melanne Verveer) and USAID Director of Women’s Global Development would provide assistance to NGOs, multilateral institutions, and foreign governments to carry out the program activities. In order for funds to be provided to NGOs for this work, they must have an expertise in women’s empowerment, prevention of violence against women, or be in partnership with organizations that have the expertise, and they would need proven capabilities in one of the five program areas. This legislation would also authorize grants for women’s NGOs and community-based organizations, amounting to at least 10 percent of funds allotted to each country selected.

The Act would also call for other initiatives to respond to and prevent violence against women and girls. These efforts would be related to U.S. accountability, training for foreign military, police forces, and judicial officials; and violence against women and girls in humanitarian relief, peacekeeping, conflict, and post-conflict operations. Through these measures, this legislation would integrate issues of gender and violence into foreign assistance more directly than any other previous U.S. effort.

Violence against women and girls is a serious problem in the U.S., as well as in many other countries, developed and developing. World Bank data shows that in the U.S., domestic violence is the leading cause of injury among women of reproductive age, and over 600 women a day are raped or sexually assaulted. Violence against women and girls is a problem of devastating magnitude in all countries. The adoption of International Violence Against Women Act of 2010 as U.S. policy would be a step forward toward securing the right of all people to live their lives free from violence.

Carol Yost is Director of The Asia Foundation’s Women’s Empowerment Program and Barbara Rodriguez is a Program Officer for the Women’s Empowerment Program. They can be reached at cyost@asiafound-dc.org and brodriguez@asiafound-dc.org, respectively.

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